Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Do We Need God?

From a blog reader:

"Does everyone have a need for God at some point in their lives? This is the answer I am trying to find out and still searching for... I've been thinking to myself why are human beings 'what's next' creatures? What's next after I study, what's next after I come out and work, what's next after I marry, what's next after I have children, etc. And always when I have gotten the next from the what's next, I'll look to the what's next...so after imagining all this you ask yourself do I have a void? I think this is the answer I am trying to find out: Does everyone in their entire lives have and will realise that they have a void that nothing in this world can satisfy and conclusively for our discussion, only God can?"

My response:

I think it's human nature to ask "what's next?" It's human nature to wonder where we came from, why we exist, what our lives mean in the grand scheme of things. Human beings are naturally curious creatures. Being able to ask such questions is a luxury.

Consider Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which puts basic human needs such as food, water, and shelter at the bottom of the pyramid and more abstract needs such as morality and self-actualization at the top. If you're too busy struggling to survive and working day and night just to feed your family, you're probably not going to have a whole lot of time to wax philosophical about the meaning of life or what's next. You're going to be more concerned with the void in your stomach than with the void in your soul or pyche.

But once your basic needs are met and you have food, shelter, safety, career, family, security, you have time to ask what's next and whether this is all life has to offer. You start pondering the meaning of life, who gave you life and what you should be doing with your life because... well, because you can. And many people who don't find satisfactory answers to those questions elsewhere in their lives look to God and religion.

Or, in some cases, people look to God or religion even before they get to those larger questions, when they can't meet the lesser needs such as food, water, shelter, or health.

So some people might need to bring God and religion into the mix early on in the Hierarchy of Needs: "God, please help me find a job so I can provide for my family. God, please cure me of this disease. God, please protect us from this violence."

Others bring God in much later on, when they can move on to less concrete wish lists: "God, please point me to the path of righteousness. God, please show me the way to salvation. God, give me the strength to do your will."

The thing is, I haven't felt the need to bring God into my hierarchy of needs. My needs are being met with what I already have in my life. So I don't feel the void that this blog reader is talking about. Could you satisfy his curiosity and comment on whether or not you feel a void and whether or not you think it can be filled by God?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Best Thing About Cancer

A blog reader asked, "What's the best thing about having cancer?"

I think cancer has brought out the best in my friends and family. To put it another way, it's made me see the best in my friends and family.

I have some friends who were ostracized after being diagnosed with cancer or other terminal illness. They stopped getting invitations to dinner parties. Their friends stopped calling. I know people who were abandoned by their family and friends while going through a divorce or other difficult times. I just don't get it.

When I was diagnosed, I had virtual strangers come out of the woodwork offering to make me meals, take me to chemo, take the kids out so I could rest... to the point that I felt bad turning people down all the time.

I suppose I could congratulate myself for attracting the kind of people who would help, not abandon, a friend in need, but I really don't know what I've done to deserve such kind treatment. In fact, I've probably seemed quite ungrateful and unappreciative at times and still nobody seems to hold it against me.

So... to answer the question... cancer has renewed my faith in the goodness of people. I've always been a cynic, but I have to say now that I'm a convert. I now believe that human beings are inherently good; they just need the opportunity to show it and the benefit of the doubt. That's the best thing about having cancer - getting the chance to see the goodness in people around me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How Would You Live?

If you had limited time to live, how would you spend that time? Let's say you had six months. What would you really do in that time? Travel the world? Do something crazy that you've always wanted to do but never had the courage, means, or opportunity to do? Something like sky-diving, auditioning for a play, asking a hero of yours out on a date, quitting your job by telling your sadistic boss just what you think of him, marrying your husband all over again, learning to dance the tango... anything!

Have you ever thought about what you'd do with such a short time left? I never really saw myself getting cancer and dying so young, but I had thought about what I'd do if I had a terminal illness. I thought I'd want to travel the world. There are many places I'd still like to see: the pyramids in Egypt, the Grand Canyon in the U.S., the ancient ruins in Greece, the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Prague, Turkey, the Maldives.

But as much as I'd like to see those places, I don't want to trade in the time I have with my family to do it, so I've given up on that.

I never really had any dreams growing up. I occasionally fantasized about being an aid worker in some remote village in Africa and saving lives somehow. Or being a hotshot lawyer in New York and putting the bad guys away. But I don't recall having an answer to the question adults like to ask kids about what they want to be when they grow up. I can't think of anything I wanted to be growing up. I think my answer was just simply, "big".

Now I do definitely have a dream. I dream of watching my kids grow up. Nothing so ambitious as seeing my grandchildren or anything like that, but just a little step at a time - watching Toby and Josie learn and blossom in front of my eyes, day-to-day. I guess every day that I see them, I'm seeing a bit of my dream come true. I love that.

But back to you... tell me what you'd do with six months left.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Chemo, A Win For God?

I had a new chemo combination yesterday: Ixempra, which I had three weeks ago, but this time we added Avastin to the mix. That includes a bunch of other drugs to control the side-effects, as usual. I'll be going in for the next three days to get a G-CSF shot to boost my white blood cells. This is now the tenth new chemo regimen we've tried this year.

The infusion took about six hours because it was only my second time with Ixempra and my first time with Avastin. When they start you on a new drug, they make the IV drip go very slowly into your system, in case you have a bad reaction. Luckily, I've had no problems during any of my infusions. And so far, no side-effects. I slept through most of it because I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before due to the steroids I'm on.

My oncologist told me today that she's going out of town tomorrow for a week. She's going on a pilgrimage to Israel, she said. I should've asked her to tell God to prove himself by curing her patient, Shin. Tony has already said that if I were cured, it would be enough proof for him to believe in God and he'd go out and spread the word.

So... my doctor prays for me to be cured, I'm miraculously cured, Tony believes in God and tells all our friends about this miracle, our friends also believe in God, I live to a ripe old age and my kids have a mommy growing up. And my doctor tells my story to all her patients, who, in turn, believe in miracles, are cured, and believe in God. It's a win-win-win-win-win situation. So God, are you up for this?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cancer Candor

I know that different people deal with their cancer in different ways. I wrote about this in my post, "My Cancer, Your Cancer" some time ago. I also wrote about my attitude toward cancer and death in "Laughing About Death".

But a blog reader has pointed out something I hadn't thought of. I had told this reader about some friends and family who don't read my blog because they're afraid of bad news or because they just don't want to know the details of my life with cancer for whatever reason.

Her response was that they're "missing so much -- not just from you, but from life. I find that how they react to your cancer news and life in general tends to be the same. People who are afraid of bad news and pain and sorrow are never happy, which is odd but I think it's true."

I had to think about that for a while because it's counter-intuitive. If you avoid bad news and sorrow, wouldn't you be more happy, not less? But I think this blog reader is right. I think life exists in contrasts and you can't really experience happiness without ever having felt sorrow. And avoiding bad news and pain inevitably means you avoid choices and risks that can lead to some of the best moments in life.

I know some people don't even tell their friends or family they have cancer. That's a pretty big thing to keep to yourself. If you can't trust the people closest to you with such knowledge about you, what good are they to you? And if they can't trust you to share your fear, pain, and sorrow with them, what good are you to them?

There are lies we tell and truths we keep to ourselves to spare the feelings of those we want to protect. But the more I think about it, the more I think that dying is one thing that you don't lie about to the people you genuinely trust and care about. If you can't be honest about your feelings as you're facing death, if you have to make stuff up while lying on your deathbed, then you're truly dying alone, no matter how many people you have at your bedside with words of support and bouquets of flowers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Test Results

The blood tests show that the white stuff in my lungs is NOT mycoplasma, which means it's cancer spreading further in the lungs. I knew this was cancer and not an infection, but I was really hoping to be wrong.

The good news is that one of my tumor markers has gone down:

Normal Ranges:
CEA ................ 0.0 - 4.7
CA 15.3 ........... 0.0 - 25.0
CA 125 ............ 0.0 - 35.0

Sept. 22, 2008
CEA ........... 21.2
CA 15.3 ..... 44.3
CA 125 ..... 362.6

Sept. 5, 2008
CEA ........... 19.3
CA 15.3 ..... 43.4
CA 125 ..... 496.9

With this mixed bag of results, it's too early to conclude that the current chemo isn't working. The plan now is for me to resume Ixempra tomorrow, but add Avastin to go with it. My doctor has also put me back on steroids (Dexamethasone) to strengthen my lungs and give me some relief from the pain in my chest.

I think I'll get through this rough patch. I've been through this before and I bounced back. One blog reader told me her father had a prognosis of six months but he kept deteriorating and bouncing back for over ten years. I look like a ball with my shiny bald head; I figure I can bounce like one. Boing, boing!

Another Downturn

I wish I were just talking about the financial markets. As if losing our life savings in this market downturn weren't enough, I'm going through a bit of a downturn myself.

Lately, I've had some problems breathing and I've had coughing fits, just like I had earlier this year when I went through that bad phase. I've had to get the oxygen machine back, and I spend several hours a day hooked up to this thing, lying in bed with tubes stuck up my nose.

But sometimes I feel back to normal. Last week, I went ice-skating at a kids' birthday party. But I was exhausted afterwards and spent almost all of the next day in bed, hooked up to the oxygen machine. A few nights ago, I had a coughing fit that left me unable to catch my breath. I felt as I were suffocating. I panicked. It was the worst feeling in the world. That's always been my worst nightmare - suffocating or drowning to death.

A few days ago, I forgot to take my pain medication and felt aches in my chest, back and head. This is the reason I had resisted taking pain medicine in the first place - I didn't want the drugs to mask symptoms that could tell me that my condition was getting worse. So now I know something is wrong.

And that brings me to another problem. My brain just isn't functioning properly. I keep forgetting to take my medications. Don't bother offering advice on how to remember - we've tried them all. Alarms, calendars, pill boxes, you name it. Tony and an oncologist friend of ours have come up with a checklist to ensure I've taken all the drugs I'm supposed to in a 24-hour period, but I've forgotten to use the checklist. I had it sitting next to me in bed, with the drugs and a clock, and still I forgot.

Here's a really silly one: I turned on the oxygen machine, but then forgot to put the cannula (tubes) in my nose. I then fell asleep with the oxygen machine running, so it was pumping oxygen into my room instead of my body.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday to talk about these problems and get a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed fluid in my right lung and some more opacity than there was in the previous X-ray. The nurses took blood to run some tests so they can rule out any sort of infection before we conclude that this chemo (Ixempra) isn't working and move on to something else. We'll get the results later today.

Since I wrote the above, I've developed another symptom: blurry vision. And the chest pains have gotten worse - now I have a sharp pain in my chest, just under the heart area, when I just breathe in. I'll let my doctor know, get my test results, and post again later today.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Void

A blog reader wrote:

What is the truth out there, I am desperate to do a survey to find out is there really a void in everyone that only God can fill? Even for unbelievers?

No - there isn't. Flip it round: is every single believer completely happy and fulfilled? Do none of them have "voids"? Do believing, practising Christians never get depressed or even commit suicide?

Another way to think about it: does someone with only three children have a "void" because their friend has four children? I think voids are irrelevant to our capacity to feel and to love. There doesn't have to be a specific number of quantity of [stuff] to fill the void.

One more thing: I think there are voids that can never be filled. When someone dies, there is nothing that can fill that void. There are other things that can maybe help mask or distract from the pain of that void (such as finding a new spouse, or having another child).

But does the original void go away? Never ever ever. Not all the gods in the universe could fill it.

And here is my response:

I used to feel something that could be called a void. When I was in my twenties, I think I felt some need to find the meaning of life or my existence, and I went back and forth between existential angst and nihilistic hostility.

I wonder now if that was just an excuse for not wanting to grow up and do something with my life and take responsibility for my actions.

I don't feel a void now. I don't feel the need to seek God or the meaning of life or the reason for my existence. I feel I've found the best that life has to offer: love. As corny as that sounds, I've found love in the perfect husband for me (okay, he has some flaws I could complain about, but nothing compared to mine!), and two kids I love so much it's ridiculous. And, as an added bonus, I have the love of friends who have proven to me that Hobbes (the philosopher who I thought in my twenties was closest to the truth about the human condition) was wrong.

Philosophers might be disappointed that life's essence comes down to something as mundane and common as a loving family, but they can go and ponder away at the meaning of life while I bask in the love and happiness of my family and friends.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Zealous, Jealous

A blog reader told me about the song, Healer, by Hillsong, an Australian Christian rock band. I've heard this song once before, when I went to see the Nigerian preacher who claimed to cure me of cancer.

The song has an uplifting beat and melody. When I heard it at church, there were live drums and keyboards and several vocalists on stage, eyes closed in passionate singing, holding up their open-palm hands into the air. I looked around at the congregation and most of the people were also in trance-like mode, arms outstretched over their heads, singing along with the band on stage.

I started to think it was a bit creepy, almost cult-like. But then it occurred to me how biased I was. I've been to rock concerts where people were throwing themselves at the stage and gyrating their bodies and acting like crazies and nobody accused them of being creepy cultists.

So why do I and other non-religious people begrudge those who are passionate about their religion and their God the right to connect emotionally with their faith in a similar setting? If you're going to be crazy emotional about something, it makes more sense to feel that way about your God than about some pretty boy band.

I used to take Josie and Toby to a church down the street because they liked going to the Sunday School there. A very anti-religion friend of mine told me if I became a regular church-goer, she'd have to stop talking to me. Of course, she was kidding, but it occurred to me that there are some people who are just as irrational and closed-minded against religion as any fundamentalists or zealots for religion.

I wonder if some people are just jealous that they don't have something to be that passionate and zealous about.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Before-I-Die Wish List

There are a number of things I'd like to see happen before I die.

On a grand scale, I'd like to see the Palestinians and Israelis come to a peaceful agreement. I'd like to see the Iraqis form a democratic government so that U.S. and other foreign troops can leave Iraq to the Iraqis. I'd like to see the military government in Burma hand over power to the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi. I'd like to see the North Koreans well-fed. The list goes on and on.

I could get really greedy and just wish for world peace and happiness for all. But I think beauty queens have been wishing for that for a while now and it doesn't seem to be happening.

On a smaller scale, I have a wish list of things I'd like to see happen among my friends and family before I die. Some of them have already come true. Two of my friends finally got engaged to each other and I plan to live long enough to make it to their wedding next year. Another friend became a father earlier this year after years of dreaming about it. Another friend who's had the worst luck with men finally met a nice guy and they've had a baby. I can happily cross these guys off my wish list.

I have a number of other friends who want to find love, get married, have babies. They're on my wish list, too. I also have friends who just want to get healthy. Their clean bill of health is on my wish list.

I'd like to be able to lie on my death bed some day (not any day soon!), think about all my friends and family and say, "You're all happy. You guys are gonna have a great life." I'm one of those people who needs to tidy up the room and make sure all the guests are taken care of before I can relax.

Do you have a wish list you'd like to check off before you die?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dead Mother Advantage

Here's an irony. Josie and Toby might miss out on many things that kids growing up with their mothers might have, but there will also be some advantages to having a dead, rather than living mother.

If I'm dead as they grow up, I won't be around to nag them or make them feel bad when they don't meet my expectations. I won't be around to tell them what to do, how to dress, what to eat, whom to date or not date, which friends to choose, or which classes to take at school.

Think of all the ways we mothers try to control our children's lives, the choices we try to preempt, the power, freedom, and responsibility we take away from them. If I'm not around, Josie and Toby can have the happy memories of a mother who loves them no matter what, without judging or controlling them.

They can tailor their image of me to fit the mother they need at any given time - sensitive and caring when they're feeling sad; strong and supportive when they're going through tough times. And all the while, they can feel like I'm with them, loving them without condition. Whereas if I were alive, I'd be tempted to give them unsolicited advice, tell them what to do, even criticize them for their choices in life.

And I get to avoid all the bad parts of being a mother. I won't have to discipline them, say no to them, have difficult conversations with them, punish them when they misbehave, set limits that will make them resent me. I get to be the perfect absent mom. What do you know... there's an upside to everything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lazy Inspiration

People keep telling me what an inspiration I am, that I never complain, that I'm so positive in the face of such dire circumstances.

I think I need to set the record straight.

I do complain. I just try not to do it too often out loud or in public, especially on this blog. If I'm going to feel miserable, I see no upside to spreading that misery around me by voicing it aloud to others. I think that would just feed my misery even more. If I don't complain to others, at least I can feel good that I'm strong enough to keep it to myself.

Statistically, I should be dead before this year is up. I'm being realistic in facing this possibility, and maybe that's not so positive. But I am positive in my thinking that I'm not going to die until I'm actually dead. I'm going to carry on living and appreciating as much of my life as I can, while I still can. And if a miracle comes along and I'm alive for another year, then I'll consider that a bonus.

I feel funny when people say I'm an inspiration. It sounds corny. Rose Siggins, a woman who was born with a disability that left her with no legs, who lost her mother to cancer, is looking after her mentally disabled brother and her father with Alzheimer's, and raising two kids - all with wit, smarts, and a get-on-with-it attitude to life... now she's an inspiration. Stephen Hawking is an inspiration. Christopher Reeve and Jean-Dominique Bauby are inspirations.

I have an idea. Next time you think of considering me an inspiration, look at yourself. Maybe you only think I deserve all this praise because you don't think you can deserve such praise yourself. I bet you're wrong.

Don't look to other people for inspiration. That's just lazy. Find it in yourself.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chemo, Radiation Side-Effects

I haven't felt any serious side-effects from the whole-brain radiation I had earlier this month or the new chemo I've just started on. But there have been a few minor things I've been feeling since August 17, when I had seizures caused by the growing tumors in my brain. Some of these side-effects may be due to the medications I'm on, rather than the radiation or chemo.

1) Short-term memory loss. My radiation oncologist warned me that this was likely to happen. I didn't think it was happening to me, though, until yesterday. A friend told me that a mutual friend of ours was expecting a baby. I was so excited for our friend; the news made my day. Later during the day, I told Tony the exciting news. He told me that I had already heard that news when we went over to our friend's house for dinner a few weeks ago and she announced it to us herself. I was just as excited then as I was yesterday. So I guess I have indeed lost some of my short-term memory. The upside of this is that I can hear the same thing over and over again and be just as excited each time.

2) Insomnia. This is due to the anti-seizure medications and steroids I'm on, I think. Since my seizures, I think I've had an average of 3-4 hours of sleep a night. I had resisted taking sleeping pills because I already have so many drugs swirling around in my body, I was worried there might be some interaction and I could die in my sleep. But my sleeplessness was affecting my behavior with the kids so I finally gave in a few nights ago and took a sleeping pill. It didn't work. I slept for two hours straight then woke up and couldn't get back to sleep for another three hours.

3) Fuzzy buzz. I believe this is due to the anti-seizure medications I'm on. Since my seizures, I've been on a nice little drug-induced high. It feels a bit like I'm tipsy or on drugs - a nice, mellow state of mind. I'm usually an anal retentive, tightly-coiled, short-tempered control freak. But lately, I'm a relaxed, slow-moving, Big Lebowski. Petty little things that used to bother me don't seem to upset me anymore. I like this new me.

4) Dumb and dumber. I'm not sure if this is due to the radiation or the drugs I'm on, but I'm hoping it's only temporary. My mind is not as lucid or sharp as it used to be. I can actually feel myself struggling to follow a train of thought or figure something out logically. I can feel myself being dumber than I used to be. It's a bit scary to sense that your intellectual capacity is slipping away, especially when you think your brain is your best feature, as I always have. So now I've lost my breasts and my brain. Hmmm... which body part will go next?

5) Hair loss. My hair has fallen out again. This could be due to the radiation or the chemo or a combination of both.

Luckily, none of these side-effects are serious or debilitating, and for that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ovarian Cancer Check

I went to see my gynecologist recently for a regular check-up and to ask about some symptoms I've been having on and off for the past several months. I wanted to check for ovarian cancer because once you've had breast cancer, your risk for ovarian cancer goes way up.

Ovarian cancer has a fairly low survival rate because it's usually diagnosed at a very late stage. The symptoms are common to other, mainly harmless health conditions, so most women wouldn't get checked out for ovarian cancer until it's too late.

- Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
- A swollen or bloated abdomen
- Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling the need to urinate often
- Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)

These symptoms could be caused by PMS, urinary tract infection, food poisoning, or even over-eating. I've had most of these symptoms in the past few months so I went to see my gynecologist.

I had an ultrasound of my ovaries and a PAP smear to check for cervical cancer. All clear. I do this same check every three months now.

The most worrisome thing the doctor told me was about the fluid retention and abdominal bloating that most cancer patients seem to have a few weeks before they die. She said that when cancer cells get into the abdominal cavity, they cause fluid to build up inside the cavity. This fluid is full of protein that the body can't absorb. The fluid is drained out to give the patient some relief from pain, but it also drains out the protein the body needs. So the organs start shutting down and the patient just wastes away. I guess that's the cachexia I've talked about in past blog posts.

This has happened to three women I know of who had liver metastasis (spread) from breast cancer. For all three, it was a matter of weeks from bloating to death. So of course I'm going to be worried if I have the slightest bit of bloating in my tummy, which I've had on and off for the past several months. But cancer bloating doesn't come and go as mine has, so I don't think I'm at that critical stage yet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No Thanks, God

A blog reader wrote the following comment to me. I thought I should post my answer here to share with others so that those of you who are still talking to me about God saving me will see where I stand on this issue.

I don't get that question often but when I do I try to offer insight from other's words.
"Think about the life of Jesus. He did nothing but good for people. He healed the sick and cast out demon spirits who tormented the thoughts of people. Yet no matter how much good He did in His life He was still crucified. Jesus came so we would have the Holy Spirit in our lives. A good Spirit that tells us the truth about our present situation. A Holy Spirit that is our guide so that in everything we go through we might gain understanding through our ability to believe that God can and will help us no matter what cancer might do to destroy our lives.

Why does God allow cancer? God hates cancer! Cancer is the result of Satan's power to hurt people in the world. God is ready and able to help us fight. Even if the fight leads us to death, God promises us that He will reward us in Heaven for the pain we have endured. We are His Christian soldiers. Soldiers who fight against Satan and this evil world. God takes the evil of cancer and He shows how our determination through everything we suffer is an example to others what God can do in our lives even when the prognosis is bad. God changes the lives of our friends and family when they see that we will not let go of our faith no matter what happens to us."

I pray this encourages you. Please know that if you believe in Him, he will give you everlasting life. This world is not your home. God is able, stephanie

Here is my answer:


Jesus might have been a good guy but there have been many, many good people throughout history who have sacrificed far more than he. He wasn't given a choice. Nelson Mandela, Xanana Gusmao, Mother Theresa, even people I personally know who are not famous have sacrificed a lot more than Jesus - with choice, unlike Jesus. So I have to say I'm not that impressed with Jesus or what he did for anybody under duress, without choice.

If God hates cancer and cancer is Satan's power, then if follows logically that Satan is more powerful than God since cancer exists. Hmmm.

God will let Satan's cancer kill us but that's okay because he will reward us in heaven for the pain we suffered. Sorry. Not good enough. I don't want any rewards in heaven. I want to be with my husband and my kids here on Earth. There is absolutely nothing, nothing that God can offer me in heaven that I'd prefer to being with my family here on Earth. So I resent that this supreme being is telling me what I should want.

I don't want everlasting life. That's greedy and selfish, vague and obscure. What IS everlasting life anyway? What do you do with it? This world IS my home. It's a beautiful world, despite all the problems. I don't want something else.

I think people want something else, seek something else, when they're not happy with what they have in front of them. Well, I'm quite happy with what I have in front of me, even with cancer. So I'm not asking for anything else. I don't need God to be happy or strong. I have the love of family and friends to help me through this, but most of all, I have me. I believe I have inner strength that no God, friend, or family member can give me. I believe I have it within myself.

You say that God "shows how our determination through everything we suffer is an example to others what God can do in our lives even when the prognosis is bad." I think I'm an example of what the strength of the human spirit and love can do, without God. I don't need to give credit to something external to me or lean on something outside of myself.

I understand that some people think they need God. But I wonder if some of these people could find strength within themselves instead. I wonder if God is just a crutch.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Price Tag For Your Life

How much would you pay to keep yourself alive?

We're spending a fortune on my cancer treatment. We could be spending even more, if we wanted to move beyond just chemotherapy and try some of the more cutting-edge surgical procedures or alternative treatments available. But we don't know that these would work, and we don't have the time or money to do everything.

We've probably spent about a quarter of a million dollars on my cancer treatment so far (much of it borrowed from family). That's a lot of money to spend on something that offers no guarantees. At some point, you've got to wonder where you're going to stop.

What if we keep finding new drug combinations that work? What if my cancer spreads further and we have to resort to surgeries or more expensive treatment options? What if we keep me alive for many more years to come while trying out new treatments? How much money will we end up spending on me? A million? Two? How much money should we spend on one life?

If a million dollars would keep me alive for another year or two for certain, maybe we could find the money for that. But what if it took a million for nothing more than a slim chance that I could stay alive? Even if we could raise that kind of money, would I want to invest that much for nothing more than a chance? Would I want to take Josie's and Toby's future education fund from them? Would I bankrupt my family for such a slim possibility?

Think about you. How much money would you be willing to spend to keep yourself alive? Is there a dollar figure you can put on your life?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bigger Than Cancer

There was a huge telethon in the U.S. last weekend called "Stand Up To Cancer". It featured big names from the entertainment industry and aimed to get people to donate money for cancer research.

I'm going to say something now that only a cancer patient might get away with saying.

I think there are bigger problems in the world than cancer. I think of children who are born into poverty, who never have a chance at making a better life for themselves, who are, through no fault of their own, condemned to a life of violence, destitution, ignorance, and suffering.

If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn't put it into cancer research. I'd invest in children and giving them a future.

And if I were going to put money into cancer research, I'd put it into childhood cancers, not breast cancer or other adult cancers. Yes, even if this funding were going to save my life.

I know most of the people who read my blog are cancer survivors or have loved ones who are. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm curious to know what you think.

Do you think governments and the private sector should be putting so much money into cancer research or do you think, as I do, that there are more important social issues for public and private funding to go toward solving?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Change Of Drugs

Just got home from chemo. Instead of Avastin + Ixempra, as planned, I just had Ixempra. My doctor thought I should just start with one of the new drugs first and wait to see how I react before we add on the other.

I'll go back tomorrow morning for a G-CSF (granulocyte-colony stimulating factor) shot, which stimulates the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. One of the side-effects of Ixempra is a decrease in white blood cells or the immune system, which makes the patient very vulnerable to infections.

I'll have to be careful to stay away from crowds and sick people.

Bald Again!

My hair started falling out in clumps last night in the shower so I shaved it all off. Now I'm a shiny Q-ball again. My radiation oncologist had told me my hair might fall out after the whole-brain radiation I had, but it wasn't guaranteed. I had grown back about an inch of downy-soft hair after losing it all to the last round of chemo months back, but now it's all gone again. Oh well. Hair is hair.

In a way, I like being bald. If I'm going to be a cancer patient, maybe I should look a bit like one so that people will be more understanding if I display other side-effects of being a cancer patient. Things like fuzzy memory and fatigue are not visible enough signs while baldness and missing body parts are.

I also want people to see me as an example of how someone can go on living a full and happy life with cancer. I want strangers in the street to look at me and think, "Hey! I think that lady has cancer! What's she doing up and about doing the shopping instead of waiting for death in a dark corner somewhere?"

I think people are still too afraid of cancer and people with cancer. Maybe I should wear a T-shirt that says, "Ask me about living with cancer!" I guess that's what my shiny bald head is saying. Ask me about cancer.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Treatment Update

Today is the last day of whole-brain radiation treatment (ten sessions total). I start on a new round of chemotherapy tomorrow. The new drugs will be Avastin and Ixempra. This will be the ninth chemo regimen we're trying this year. I wonder if that's a record?

Avastin (Bevacizumab) is targetted therapy. It targets the cancer cells and leaves the healthy cells alone. It works by preventing the cancer cells from forming their own blood vessels, which they need to feed themselves.

Ixempra (Ixabepilone) is chemotherapy in the traditional sense, so it targets any fast-growing cells, healthy as well as cancer. This drug slows or prevents the growth of tumors by preventing cell division.

I'll be the second patient my doctor has tried this drug combination on, so it's a bit experimental. If anyone else out there has tried these two drugs together and can share some information on the experience, please do.

And just in case there's collective wisdom out there on the other drugs I'm currently on, here's my list:

Codeine Phosphate

This doesn't include the nutritional supplements I also take each day.

Thanks for sharing!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hand-Foot Syndrome Cure Works!

I tried the henna remedy for chemo-induced Hand-Foot Syndrome last night and it worked!

Granted, my feet had already begun healing, so there were no more open bleeding or pus-oozing wounds, but the skin was still very thin, raw, and tender (and peeling off in small patches), that I was still having some trouble walking.

I'm scheduled to start a new chemo regimen in two days, so I was worried that my feet weren't ready to take the new onslaught of chemo and Hand-Foot Syndrome, but after just one night with the natural henna remedy, my feet feel ready to take it on!

Thanks so much to Monique Doyle Spencer, author of the article, "Want a Zillion-Dollar Cure Idea?", who first introduced me to this natural henna remedy for Hand-Foot Syndrome. I hope other cancer patients suffering from HFS read this and get the same relief.

Click HERE to get instructions on how to make up the henna paste.

Monique Doyle Spencer is a breast cancer survivor and author of the book, "The Courage Muscle: A Chicken's Guide to Living With Breast Cancer." She has another book coming out this October, "How Can I Help? Everyday Ways to Help Your Loved Ones Live With Cancer." She donates all proceeds from her book to a medical center in Boston, U.S.A. I haven't read her book yet, but it's on my list of things to get for myself once I'm up and about again - maybe by this weekend, thanks to this henna remedy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Paradise Redefined

This is a follow-up to two earlier posts, "Paradise Declined" and "A Better Life?"

I think my problem with heaven or an afterlife is that it seems terribly mundane. The Bible talks about heaven having many mansions or rooms, depending on which version you read (John 14:2). Whether you take that literally or figuratively, it's still pretty disappointing that all heaven can offer us is something appealing to our petty material desires.

Actually, most of the descriptions of heaven I've heard - a second Garden of Eden, rivers flowing with milk, streets paved with gold and the like - are offered by preachers using their imaginations and marketing skills to sell us the idea of heaven. There are very few references in the Bible to what heaven actually looks or feels like.

In this article, "What Does the Bible Say About Heaven?", the author lists 51 one things we can know about heaven, using the Bible as a source. I've read through them. I'm not sold. I'd rather be with my husband and my kids.

People talk about heaven as a place where there's no pain or suffering. I just don't see how life, especially eternal life, can be possible or desirable in such a setting. I could create a life of no pain and suffering for my kids here on Earth - raise them in a bubble or keep them high on drugs the whole time. It would be a short life, but they'd suffer no pain and wouldn't know any better. Is that what we should hope for?

Maybe I just can't think of a place that would be perfect for me because perfection is a self-defying idea. A life in which everything is perfect - no suffering, no obstacles, no existential angst, no challenges, no sweating, no yearning, no striving - would not be perfect. A perfect existence is something to strive for, hope for, live for; it's not something to actually achieve and sit on. Because that's what you'd have to do if you ever got there - sit on it. Where else could you go from there?

It's like that saying, "You can't have your cake and eat it too." Silly saying. What's the point of having cake if you can't eat it? Have it, eat it, and move on. Go get more cake. Eat that too. Keep looking for and eating more cake. Eating it is having it. Living a mortal life is life.

Monday, September 1, 2008

What A Boy Needs...

Toby woke up in the middle of the night one night last week, and he asked me to go lie down with him in his bed for a while so I did. I loved lying there, the two of us facing each other, his arm tightly clinging to my neck, with me smelling his smell and feeling his breath on my face.

Several times, I thought he'd drifted back to sleep so I started to get up, but then he'd say, "I'm scared" or "Just one more minute, Mommy?" So I stayed and cuddled and kissed him some more. After about half an hour of this, he said it was okay for me to go and released his arm from my neck. He had just needed me to be there for him until he felt safe and comfortable again.

Then I started wondering... what does a boy need from his mommy growing up? Are they different things from what a girl needs?

So you guys out there... I could use some tips. What did you get from your moms growing up that you found helpful? What advice, support, presence did you get from your mothers that you would recommend for me and Toby? Give me some practical tips, some views I can use.